Establishing safety protocols on the job is one of the best ways to protect your personal safety, especially as 22% of REALTORS® say they've feared for their physical well-being or the security of their personal information at work, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2023 Member Safety Residential Report. “Crimes against real estate professionals have risen 300% since 2006. It’s important for us to take steps to protect ourselves,” says Janet Judd, ABR, CRS, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Results in the St. Louis area.
Judd is in a position to know: A former chair of NAR’s REALTOR® Safety Advisory Committee, she was also the first female police officer hired by her department in St. Louis County in the early 1980s. Judd shares the four danger zones that real estate professionals can encounter during the course of their business day and how to minimize the associated risk.
Danger Zone Number One: Your Vehicle
Real estate professionals are often distracted by their phones when exiting or walking to their cars. Criminals see that distraction as an opportunity to attack.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Park in a well-lit area with people and other cars nearby, if possible.
- Pull through on parking spaces for a faster exit.
- Be alert between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., which is when most carjackings occur.
- Keep your passenger doors locked when you enter your vehicle.
Judd advises real estate professionals to be aware of their surroundings and look for the “pink squirrel”—that is, anything that’s noticeably out of place. “If you see someone wearing a heavy coat in the summertime, that’s unusual,” Judd explains. “That coat could be hiding weapons.”
Danger Zone Number Two: Your Office
The office may seem like a safe place, but predators could be watching to see when you’re left alone.
- Keep the front and back doors of your office locked, and make sure the doors have locks with keys—and not just levers.
- Have a lock on your personal office door. Coordinate with office management if you don’t have one.
- Keep your phone fully charged at all times.
- Know how to work the emergency sequence on your phone.
- Speak in a loud voice and be assertive if someone catches you by surprise.
Because criminals are looking for vulnerabilities, speaking and acting with authority could make an intruder back down, Judd says. “Create boundaries. Don’t appear weak or subservient.”
Danger Zone Number Three: Showing a Property
Predators have been known to target individual agents, learning about them through their social media presence and scheming to meet them alone. Maintaining control and adhering to your company’s established safety protocols can help weed out the bad apples.
- Ask clients to come to the office first. Those with criminal intent may refuse and become angry—signs that you’re dealing with a predator.
- Don’t park in the driveway. You can be blocked in.
- Always keep your keys and your phone on you. Don’t set them down on a table.
- Never turn your back on a prospect.
- Avoid spaces with no other exit, such as basements. They can be traps.
Judd says real estate professionals may also consider running background checks on prospective clients. However, she cautions that if you run a background check on one prospect, then you should run them for all. “Otherwise, you could potentially create a fair housing violation,” she says.
Danger Zone Number Four: Conducting an Open House
Predators also can target an individual agent through open houses. If you notice that a prospective client has appeared at several of your open houses but hasn’t made any offers, that could be a red flag.
- Let prospects lead the way into individual rooms. You can stay by the door.
- Establish escape routes from every level of the house.
- Have a bell attached to the front door so you can hear when someone enters.
- Call a buddy or the office on a regular, timed basis.
The end of an open house is potentially the most dangerous time of the event. “People can hide in drapes, closets, showers,” Judd says. “Be sure to talk to someone on the phone while you are checking the house.”
Above all, Judd counsels that every real estate professional should listen to their gut. “When you have goose bumps, when your heart is racing, that’s your instincts kicking in,” she says. “I think of it as my guardian angel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened, and I’ve always been right.”